OPINIONS

Sat 18 May 2024 2:41 pm - Jerusalem Time

US focused on hunting down Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar, in bid to end Gaza war

By Sean Mathews

Officials say Biden administration is roughly one month behind on last known location of Hamas's Gaza chief

The United States is focused on tracking down Hamas's Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, amid a new push by the White House to help Israel declare "total victory" so it can bring an end to the war on Gaza, US officials have told Middle East Eye. 

Current and former US officials, who spoke with MEE on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the mission, said the US was expanding its search efforts across the region, after believing the 61-year-old was hiding in tunnels deep below Gaza.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media, told MEE that the Biden administration is now exploring possibilities that Sinwar fled to Egypt's Sinai peninsula, and from there may have even escaped to either Lebanon or Syria. 

The White House referred MEE to comments from US national security advisor Jake Sullivan earlier this week, that he wouldn't comment on intelligence about Sinwar.

The current and former officials did not reference any specific intelligence but said one factor driving the debate was that US intelligence was lagging on Sinwar's last whereabouts. 

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According to the officials, the Biden administration is roughly one month behind on tracking Sinwar's last known location, which was within the Gaza Strip. 

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official who also advised four US presidents on national security, told MEE that the lack of clarity surrounding Sinwar's last location was "pretty bad."

When asked about the timeframe, he said: "One month means you aren't even close to real-time information."

Last month, a Hamas official said that Sinwar had visited combat zones above ground and had held deliberations with the group's leadership abroad. 

Speaking to the pan-Arab news outlet Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed (or The New Arab), the Hamas official said Sinwar was not always staying in tunnels, as claimed by Israel, but also performing his duties in the field.

MEE could not independently verify the reports on his whereabouts. 

Tracking Sinwar has taken on a new urgency within the US intelligence community because the Biden administration believes it could help pressure Israel to end the war by declaring victory, the officials said.

US President Joe Biden alluded to that strategy last week when he told CNN: "I said to Bibi (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu), 'Don't make the same mistake we made in America. We wanted to get bin Laden. We'll help you get Sinwar'."

The parallel between hunting Sinwar and al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden underlines the extreme difficulty the US and Israel face trying to find Sinwar.

The hunt for Bin Laden took ten years, and when he was located, he was in Pakistan, roughly one kilometre away from a military academy of the US's counterterrorism ally.

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US focused on hunting down Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar, in bid to end Gaza war

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